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Ennis woman among expats honoured in Abu Dhabi

AN ENNIS woman is among a group of expats living in Abu Dhabi who have been honoured for their work in raising awareness of mental health.
Laura Brennan, originally from Toberteascain and daughter of Martin and Cora, is the vice chairperson of the voluntary group Darkness Into Light Abu Dhabi.
The group who dedicate their time to raising awareness and providing accessible support for their community in the United Arab Emirates have been presented with the Spirit of the Community Award at the Pride of Abu Dhabi awards.
They began work in 2015 in an effort to bring the Pieta House Darkness into Light walk to Abu Dhabi and last year’s walk saw more than 700 people take part. However, their work is about so much more than the walk. They strive to provide free and accessible support and to unite people who are suffering distress through various events such as the annual Light Ball Abu Dhabi and monthly Tea and Talk support sessions. The committee is made up of 90% Irish expatriates inspired by the work of Pieta House and determined to eliminate the taboo surrounding mental illness in the Middle East. They now provide support to over 200 different nationalities living in Abu Dhabi, having a hugely positive impact in their host country.
The committee is led by chairperson Maria Kelly, a native of Caltra in Galway. Vice chair Laura is a counselling psychologist who has lived in Abu Dhabi for the past six years. Recalling how she first got involved with the organisation Laura said, “Like so many people, I have participated in the Darkness Into Light Walk every year since its conception. In 2015, Maria Kelly introduced the walk to Abu Dhabi so I did the walk here a couple of times before deciding that I wanted to help in a deeper way. When I joined, the moniker of Darkness Into Light was being used as the charity name with the walk one component.
“The walk has now grown exponentially with 750 walkers in 2018 and this year our walk will be held during Ramadan at the magnificent Emirates Palace. Just being allowed to hold an event in Emirates Palace is an incredible achievement. With such a fantastic location and the growing ease at which people are talking about mental health we are aiming to have over 1000 walkers this year.”
Outlining what their work means to the local area she said, “We are very unique because we are so much more than the walk. At the moment, we are working on achieving official charity status which is very difficult to attain here because of rules and regulations surrounding charitable organizations. This is the main goal that we wish to achieve; it’s the dream! We are all volunteers with most of us working, but we still operate the charity as a professional full-time organization.
“We provide outreach programs in the community by holding free events like Tea and Talk which are public interactive forums where vulnerable people have the opportunity to access a therapeutic service for free. We also visit schools to help parents who are worried about their children, regularly meet with people who cannot afford to pay for therapists and support the Irish Embassy when they are contacted by people who have a mental health need. These are just some of the examples of how we contribute to the community, but trust me this is only a small part of the service we provide, a service that we are extremely honoured to do.”
Renowned Irish musician, author and ambassador for Pieta House Niall ‘Bressie’ Breslin was the guest speaker at the Tea and Talk event in November where he outlined his own struggles with anxiety.
Speaking about the recent award she said, “It is incredible to see how our work impacts the community in which 200 nationalities reside. It is an honour to work alongside the incredibly passionate and dedicated Darkness into Light committee for such an important cause here in the Middle East”.
President Michael D. Higgins, President of Ireland paid tribute to the group saying, “The work of Darkness into Light to raise greater awareness of mental health issues in the United Arab Emirates fosters a deeper and more widespread understanding of the human condition itself. It also encourages the support and emotionally intelligent fellowship of others, which represents humanity at its best.”

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